Anger Management And Addiction

We experience a broad spectrum of emotions every day. Whilst it is usual and expected for us all to feel the full range of emotions over time, we may find that specific feelings start to become intense or difficult to manage. Some individuals may find that they have a tendency towards a specific set of emotions; for example, individuals with depression frequently experience sadness, loneliness or feeling low. Struggling to manage our anger can lead to a range of difficulties, both on a personal and a more social basis. Research has indicated that ‘anger and aggression are associated with substance abuse,’ therefore suggesting a strong link between anger management symptoms and addiction. 

What is anger management?

Anger management is an umbrella term for instances of ‘inappropriate, intense, or poorly controlled anger.’ 

If we respond strongly to a specific situation every once in a while, this doesn’t necessarily mean that we have an anger management problem. Charles Spielberger (a psychologist specialising in the study of anger) explained the difference between anger as a temporary emotion and ‘trait anger.’ He distinguished between individuals feeling anger as a more transient emotion and people who experience anger almost as a kind of base emotion. In Spielberger’s theory, this suggests that some people have a general tendency towards anger. This may mean that they are more reactive and may show an ‘inappropriate’ response to anger more frequently. But before we think about what an inappropriate response to anger is, it can be helpful to think about what anger actually is and how it can manifest in both our bodies and our minds.

Defining anger

Spielberger defined anger as ‘an emotional state that varies in intensity from mild irritation to intense fury and rage.’ When we think about anger, we may think about hot-headedness and perhaps even aggression or violence. But anger can appear differently, on a kind of ‘sliding scale.’ Some people may be able to ‘mask’ their anger more than others. In instances of anger management issues,  anger can make us feel:

  • tense
  • uptight 
  • guilty 
  • annoyed or resentful 
  • irritable 
  • overwhelmed 
  • out of control 

Anger also acts on our bodies, catalysing the following sensations:

  • feeling hot 
  • sweating 
  • tensing in the muscles 
  • dizziness
  • shaking or trembling 
  • headaches 
  • an increase in heart rate and blood pressure 
  • tension in the hands or jaw (gripping fists or clenching teeth)

Anger is not inherently a ‘bad’ emotion. In fact, some psychologists suggest that the presence of anger can be a valuable tool for self-improvement and progress. However, if we struggle to control it, it can lead to a range of psychosocial issues that can directly affect our sense of well-being in the longer term.

Anger management in the UK

It is difficult to pinpoint exactly how many individuals struggle with anger management issues. This is largely due to a lack of large-sample research investigating this phenomenon. However, such data can also be flawed, as it mainly relies on self-report data. This data relies on honesty from participants – and, when speaking about difficult topics such as emotions, researchers have identified issues with the validity of this type of data. However, these pieces of research can give us a general indicator of the prevalence and nature of anger issues in the community. 

A 2016 study suggested that around 7.8% of adults in the US experience anger management issues. The research identified that men and young adults were more likely to experience difficulties managing this emotion. As the US and UK share a similar Western culture, we can establish that the rates of anger management concerns in the UK may be along similar lines to those identified in the US. 

The British Association of Anger Management was founded in 1997. Since then, they have ‘coached 20,000 people,’ in their anger management classes. They have also sold over 80,000 copies of programme leader Mike Fisher’s book Beating Anger in the UK, with the title being voted one of the top 10 best self-help books 2013. This indicates a high number of people in the UK are actively seeking some form of anger management therapy, and potentially further suggests an unmet treatment need in the wider community.

Symptoms of anger management issues

Difficulties managing our anger can manifest in several different ways. The key areas are:

  • being triggered by ‘small things’
  • finding anger very difficult to control
  • experiencing ‘frequent temper outbursts’

You may also experience both outward and inward aggression.

Outward can be the more physical, aggressive signs of anger, such as:

  • shouting
  • swearing
  • verbally abusing those around you
  • hitting out
  • throwing or breaking things
  • slamming doors or objects

You may also find that you turn your anger inward, leading to:

  • negative self-talk
  • denying yourself food or sleep
  • avoiding things that give you pleasure
  • self-isolating
  • engaging in self-harm or other maladaptive behaviours

A final subtype of anger symptoms is passive aggression, which can look like:

  • using ‘the silent treatment’
  • suggesting you may harm yourself
  • being sarcastic
  • avoidance of responsibilities

All of these behaviours can risk the health of our relationships with others around us, as well as our own mental health.

Anger management and addiction

In extreme cases, anger management issues can lead to engagement in maladaptive (or harmful) behaviours. This can lead to:

  • use of drugs
  • heavy drinking
  • engaging in violence
  • engaging in self-harm
  • gambling
  • excessive spending
  • seeking sex or engaging with unsafe sex

These behaviours can temporarily alleviate intense feelings and any secondary emotions they cause, such as guilt, shame or embarrassment. However, they can also perpetuate the anger cycles, as all of these behaviours have addiction potential.

Anger management: Underlying causes

Research suggests that anger management can have a range of comorbid mental health conditions, and has been especially linked with:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • post-traumatic stress disorder
  • panic disorder
  • agoraphobia
  • personality disorders
  • substance use disorders
  • experience of childhood trauma
  • experience of grief
  • low self-esteem
  • financial issues

Do I struggle with anger management?

To assess your need for anger management support, you can ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I have a tendency to criticise others?
  • Do I keep things in until I ‘explode’?
  • Do I get upset when others don’t agree with me?
  • Do I withdraw from people when I get angry?
  • Do I take my anger out on people I am not angry with?
  • Can I discuss my feelings without losing control?
  • Can I settle my differences with people appropriately?
  • Do I become depressed easily?

If you answer ‘yes’ or sometimes to several of these questions, then it is likely that you find it difficult to manage anger.

Treatment options

Anger management can take different forms. Some key forms of support include:

  • Anger management classes
  • Therapy
  • Rehab

Contact us today

Seeking support for anger management with UKR can help you regain control of your emotions whilst also tackling your relationship with addiction. In order to harness our feelings and impulses, we sometimes need a little assistance. Support for addiction and anger management can be the first step in taking active responsibility for our well-being. It can provide the opportunity to reclaim our quality of life and establish a new sense of calm, control and contentment.

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